Excerpt from Anxiety Anonymous, The Big Book on Anxiety Addiction(Ortman): Insecure Attachment

Insecure Attachment 
A child is born completely helpless, dependent on his parents for survival. He cannot feed, clothe, or shelter himself. His parents care for his every need, not only his biological needs but especially his emotional ones. Without love and affection, a child cannot thrive and grow to emotional maturity. Because of his utter helplessness and dependence on his caregivers, a child is hard-wired, like other animals, to form an attachment bond with his parents. That bond keeps the child emotionally engaged with the parents and elicits their nurturing.

Parenting is a fine art, more an art than a science, requiring maturity, wisdom, and generosity. It requires maintaining a fine balance between many opposing behaviors. It is like keeping a violin string at just the right tension to produce beautiful music, neither too loose nor too tight. In the midst of change, parents need to guide their children by being neither too strict nor too lax. Children require calm direction in negotiating the many challenges of life. Regarding intimacy with their children, healthy, emotionally stable parents are neither too distant nor too close. Children develop a sense of confidence and self-esteem through the non-intrusive loving attention of parents who maintain balance. Balanced parents do not indulge their children’s every desire, spoiling them, nor do they deprive their children of what they need to be happy, which would make them into angry children. Instead, they make wise decisions about what would most benefit their child.

Who can be that perfect parent? 
No one! The perfect parent does not exist. All parents fail to some degree to be attuned to the constantly changing needs of their children. Normal failures, causing frustration in the child, help the child develop resilience and tolerate the inevitable frustrations of life. However, parents’ neglect of the physical and emotional needs of the child causes a severe strain in the attachment bond that the child has with the parent. Preoccupied with their own problems, parents may not see their children crying out for attention and care. For example, parents may struggle with substance abuse, a death in the family, job loss, or some serious illness which causes them to be absent or inconsistent. They do not provide the safe base the child needs to explore his world and mature, and the security of the child’s world is shattered. The child becomes overwhelmed with anxiety, feeling helpless in a hostile world. The once secure attachment of the child to the parent is ruptured, flooding the child with anxiety. If the emotional or physical abuse or neglect is extreme, these children are traumatized and disabled in forming intimate relationships throughout their lives.

How does a child cope with these inevitable failures? 
Children are amazingly resilient and resourceful. They cope by adapting to the needs of the caregivers in an attempt to maintain a semblance of the attachment bond. Some children compensate for their insecurity by becoming compliant children who are obedient and cause no problems. They are ruled by anxiety, feeling helpless and fearing abandonment. They have difficulty asserting themselves and fear being on their own. They wish to be cared for in relationships. They grow up to become dependent personalities who constantly seek safety in their love relationships. They believe: If I go along with you, you will love me and not hurt me.

Other children become so distrustful, believing they cannot count on others, that they withdraw into their own worlds. These are the invisible, the lost children. They can spend hours playing alone, appearing not to need their parents’ attention. They become self-sufficient adults who deny their emotional needs. They find their identity in performance, while disengaging in relationships. They seek safety in their freedom to pursue their own interests. They believe: If I withdraw from others, no one can hurt me.

A third group become defiant children, simmering with anger at their needs not being met. They are scapegoats who express the family’s rage. They rebel against the rules and seem to bond with others through the glue of anger. However, in reality, they fear closeness and depending on others. Beneath their angry fa├žade, they feel a sense of powerlessness. As adults, they become workaholics and perfectionists who find safety in power and control over others and their environment. They believe: If I have power and control, no one can hurt me.

When the attachment bond between a child and his caregivers is strained or ruptured, the seeds of mistrust for any intimate relationship are sown. Insecure attachment is fertile soil for the development of an addiction.

One way to think about an addiction to alcohol, drugs, or anxiety is that it is a substitute intimacy. If personal relationships are too painful and unreliable, we may seek a secure relationship with the drug of our choice or familiar mood state. Our drug or mood can always be counted on to give us a predictable result, to calm us when agitated or energize us when down. We come to love our drugs and moods which give us immediate pleasure and help to avoid pain.

Kate: A Young, Newly Married Woman 

“I get obsessed with cleaning the house and become enraged when my husband leaves messes. I hate the way I react, and I feel like I’m destroying the best thing in my life. I’ve always been a neat freak, having to keep everything neat and orderly. It’s helped in my job as an executive secretary but not in my personal life.”

After a few weeks of therapy, she admitted, “I believe the real reason I came for therapy is because I’ve always felt so distant from my parents. My father drank, and my mother stayed in her room. I grew up feeling so lonely and unwanted. And now I won’t let myself get close to anyone, even my husband, whom I love dearly.”

Insecure attachments from childhood do not end there. They continue throughout life.

We learn to compensate for our insecure feelings with anxious vigilance. We also tend to reproduce in our relationships what we experienced growing up. It is called repetition compulsion, whose purpose is to gain mastery over a painful experience by reliving it with the hope for a different result. Of course, the strategy does not work. Instead of easing anxiety, it heightens it. The sense of helplessness from childhood becomes intensified as we repeat the same pattern of unsatisfying, insecure relationships through adulthood.

Purchase Anxiety Anonymous: The Big Book on Anxiety Addiction from the MSI Press webstore. at 25% discount by using the code, FF25.

Also available online and retail. Coming soon as an e-book.

Other books by Dr. Ortman:

Read more posts by and about Dr. Ortman and his books HERE.


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